Cornville and Rimrock are on track to get upgraded broadband Internet access by October 2023 — but Sedona, Cottonwood and Camp Verde are not.
As part of the Yavapai County Broadband Initiative; The county has committed $20 million in federal American Savings Program Act funds to build a fiber-optic network that will provide high-speed Internet to unserved or underserved areas. So far, the county has awarded two contracts to expand the network.
Altice USA, which acquired Suddenlink, Rimrock; Lake Montezuma Beaver Creek, Cornville, Mayer, Spring Valley The district received $12,614,582 in ARPA funding to expand service to Cordes Lakes and Paulden.
Cox Communications received $3,757,763 to expand service to Congress and Black Canyon City. Altice raised $25,210,947 from its own funds, and Cox contributed $6,789,755 from its own funds.
Camp Verde, including Oak Creek Village; The unincorporated areas of the county around Cottonwood and Sedona will not be included in this expansion due to a lack of clarity in Altice’s response, Yavapai County Librarian Corey said. Christians representing the YCBI group explained to the Sedona City Council on October 25th.
“Eh [Altice] The proposition cannot be broken by uncombined and concatenated passes. [effectively, house connections] Because only county funds through ARPA funds can go to unincorporated areas, there is no way for people looking at the proposal to know that these transits should be funded by ARPA funds.” Christians told the council.
“The past year has been crystal clear,” Vice Mayor Scott Jablow told Christians. “Every house. So when you do an RFP, if the contractor comes back with a response and bids and throws things out, they’re not going to get picked. Why should they consider it if we are released as proposed? Are you going to leave the houses without serving these people? Are you following those in the district?
“It is our intention to try to raise as much funding as possible to complete the construction,” Christians said. “That’s not what we were told,” Jablow replied.
“We had no control over the responses we received when we issued the RFP,” Christians said. “We have said we will accept partial proposals from the public, so we can actually move forward with the project.”
“Why don’t you release it again?” Jablow asked.
“There just wasn’t enough time,” Christians conceded, adding that the district could have issued an RFP sooner, but added that the complexity of ARPA regulations made it difficult. “We received bids that worked on areas that were part of the RFP.”
“Was it written in such a plausible way?” asked Councilwoman Jessica Williamson.
Christians did not answer that question.
As partial proposals were approved, Williamson continued, “There is no intention to do the whole district, and the choice is basically for where the providers want to work. Is that true?”
“To an extent,” Christians say.
Asked for clarification from the offerors at the time, Williamson replied that if the district had told them what to do to fix their proposal, it would have given them an unfair advantage.
“Didn’t they say they were deficient in this case?” Williamson asked.
“I can’t really say that,” Christian said.
“The fact that the council is willing to put that money there is great for us to be able to serve. We were very excited and enthusiastic about this. “Full disclosure, it’s very disappointing,” Williamson said. “Basically, the proposal is unclear, so we don’t have a chance. I see this as a critical mistake.”
The clear clarification in the RFP is that Sedona, Although Yavapai County may contract with Altice to provide broadband services to areas around Cottonwood and Camp Verde. Municipalities cannot be included in the contract due to federal restrictions. Using District ARPA Funds. Cities must raise their own ARPA or general funds under a separate agreement with the county and Altice to get the service they plan to run.
September 14th By 2021, the city of Sedona has allocated 20% of its ARPA funding or directed city staff to negotiate an agreement with the county to expand broadband in partnership with a future provider. Implement the decision.
“Broadband is one of the few things we’re allowed to spend ARPA funds on,” said Molly Spangler, Sedona’s economic development director. “One of the best things about this deal,” she added, is the way it allows the city to use a small amount of city and county ARPA funds to complete a larger project.
However, in the summer of 2022, Altice informed them that the number of low-fare transits in the Sedona area was significantly outnumbered, and that they were no longer interested in extending service to Sedona.
“That was a major obstacle for us to use the ARPA funds,” Spangler said. “We had a lot of homes that were missed.”
Jim Campbell, Altice’s vice president of state and local government affairs, told the city council his company’s calculations. He explained that their original proposal would have cut 7,202 potential residents in the Sedona/VOC area, 2,783 of which were located within the Sedona city limits. Later revisions showed that the number of underserved or underserved in the city was close to 150. In that amount, Campbell argued that it doesn’t make financial sense for Altice to expand to Sedona.
“It’s not prudent to build under market forces right now,” Campbell said. “Without the subsidy opportunity, the cost of Sedona is too high.”
Federal guidelines define broadband service as an upload speed of 25 Mbps. [megabits per second] and download speed of 3 Mbps. According to Campbell, Altice offers speeds in Sedona of 150 Mbps for upload and 7.5 Mbps for download.
The figures presented by Campbell are internally inconsistent. Building the Sedona area, without using ARPA funding or any other grant program, would be a $60 million project and the cost per transit would be $5,000 or $6,000, the council was informed.
“If you can get into a house for $2,500, that’s a fair build,” Campbell said. Later, he added, “If we can get around $3,000, we’ll talk.”
Altice’s original cost estimate for Sedona’s incorporated and unincorporated areas, as presented to the council that same day, was $14,154,627. This included 7,202 passes at an average of $1,965 per pass. Total city and county contributions will be $918,639, or 6.5% of the total cost.
In the Sedona/VOC area, each pass will cost approximately $6,000. The cost to build 7,000 crossings in the Sedona/VOC area is $42 million, not $60 million.
When asked to comment on the discrepancies, Campbell said, “Those numbers are the same pattern,” and declined to elaborate. For comparison, Altice’s estimated cost is $1,700 for areas around Cottonwood and $984 for the Camp Verde area.
Councilman Jon Thompson drew attention to the difference between the costs for Camp Verde and Sedona, and repeatedly asked Campbell and Christian to explain the reason for it. He did not directly respond to his question, except that Christians must look at the facts.
“My understanding is that the terrain plays a big role in the cost for Sedona,” Christians said in a follow-up request for clarification on the cost difference.
Broadband Equity, both Campbell and Christians, said the broadband improvements currently under construction will reduce the cost of building Sedona in the future. Yavapai County has been recommended as a more competitive applicant for additional federal funding through the Access and Deployment program. Christians estimate that Arizona will receive between $800 and $1 billion in upcoming BEAD funding.
Campbell pointed out that the BEAD funding will make the cost of expanding broadband access in Sedona more financially feasible. Plans involving BEAD funds need to be approved by the end of 2023, with “money flowing in the first quarter of 24,” he said, adding that BEAD funds will also speed up connectivity.
Altice and Rimrock, which will be installed in Cornville, will offer at least 100 Mbps proportional upload/download speeds, while Cox plans to install 1 Gbps proportional connections.
Sedona businessman James Curry, who was asked by City Attorney Kurt Christianson to examine the Altice proposal, advised the council they had options. “There are other ISPs interested in Sedona,” he told the council.
Curry reminded council members that the city can partner with any ISP and will be eligible to apply for BEAD funding on its own without having to first commit to working out an agreement with the ISP. He also pointed out that “at the end of the day the ISP owns the profits from the system built and the profits are tax payer money going to a company”.
Spangler is optimistic that if the FCC service area maps continue to improve, it will reduce future confusion by allowing the city to check an ISP’s numbers when receiving a proposal. “We don’t have the ability to do that right now,” she said. “It’s the big mystery with broadband.”
The city of Sedona has entertained various proposals for installing broadband since at least 2015.